Shooting through windows
Windows in zoos are a blessing and a curse at the same time. On the one hand, they provide unique closeup views on the animals. Everyone who has ever stood face to face with a lion or a gorilla knows what I am talking about. Those are unique experiences that would not be possible if it wasn’t for those thick panes of glass that separate the oftentimes dangerous animals from us, the visitor. It is safe to say that for the ordinary zoo visitor windows are a blessing.
Photographers, however, will see this from a slightly different point of view. They want to take first class animal photos. First class, this means vibrant and sharp. And this is where windows can become an issue because depending on the type of glass this goal may become almost impossible to achieve. I am not talking about stains and scratches photographers have to deal with, but on the simple fact that this window as a single additional element can make focussing impossible. I have been in many zoos in the last 4 years and there are some where I don’t even bother to grab my camera when there’s a window in between. In the renowned Burgers Zoo in Arnhem, Netherlands, they use a very thin mesh that is hardly visible with the naked eye, presumably to make the glass more stable. It can make the autofocus of your camera go nuts. But even when there is no such mesh, the window can cause unwanted refraction resulting in slightly blurry photo. The following shot is an example for that. It was an ideal shooting situation. The window was clean, there was plenty of light and the lion was not moving. It is virtually impossible to take an unsharp photo in this situation. And yet, the photo is a mess. You can’t begin to understand my disappointment when I checked the results at home. I took man shots of this fellow and all of the were unsharp.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do about it. Some people say that approximating a 90 degrees angle will lessen or even remove this effect but in zoos this very often is not an option because the animals don’t sit in an suitable position for the photographer to do so. I have also read on the web that using a polarizer or a uv filter could help, but I haven’t tried this yet and frankly, I find it hard to believe.
But then, there is a third option that might work out well in certain situations: Deal with this additional challenge creatively and incorporate the blurriness by processing the image vintage style with Analog Efex Pro 2, as I have done with the image above. Here’s the result.